Study shows big economic benefits of United Center, plus impact on Near West Side

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If you went to an event at the United Center in 2014, the average price you paid for a ticket, about $98, was only a small part of your fiscal impact on the city and state, and benefit to the Near West Side.

Of the 2.6 million people who attended a Bulls or Blackhawks game, concert or other event, according to a study commissioned by United Center ownership, you also spent an average of nearly $36 on transportation and parking, $54 in restaurants or bars, $16 for lodging and $32 in other retail shopping.

That came to an estimated total of $623.4 million total in 2014, according to KPMG, which did the study for United Center Joint Venture.

But visitor spending is not the only benefit to Chicago, Cook County or the state of Illinois from the UC, which opened its doors in August 1994 at a privately funded cost of $175 million.

The venue supports about 21,000 jobs per year, including the Blackhawks and Bulls, and various other events, the study shows. About 12,500 of those jobs are supported directly by the spending of visitors to events at the venue.

Overall, it generates about $2 billion annually in economic activity and more than $1 billion in labor-related activity, according to the study.

It also paid about $35 million in state, county and city taxes (amusement, operating, sales and real estate) in 2013, a total that has risen 257 percent since the opening year, and reached over $334 million over the building’s lifespan.

The study also estimates that the economic activity created by the UC generates another $115 million a year in tax revenues.

In addition to jobs, direct spending and taxes, the UC has also had a side benefit across the Near West Side, according to the study.

The construction and operation of the UC “served as a catalyst for enhancement” of the Near West Side, the study said. Construction “spurred additional real estate development … revamping the neighborhood into a desirable place to live.”

That revitalization, “coupled with expansion of the West Loop office market set forth the influx of young urban professionals”; and “enhanced the quality of life” of the neighborhoods in the area through new commercial and residential development. That includes new restaurants and clubs which “affect the vitality of the neighborhood and host many of the guests” attending UC events.

About 20 years after the building’s opening, the study was commissioned by Blackhawks co-chairman Rocky Wirtz and Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to assess the financial impact of the stadium they built.

“Having invested $280 million in its construction and ongoing improvements to the building and surrounding area, we sought an independent examination of the economic activity generated by the United Center…,” they said in a statement.

The study concluded that the UC “not only serves as an economic engine for the Near West Side community, but the City of Chicago and State of Illinois as well,” Wirtz and Reinsdorf wrote. “We’re pround of the impacts we’ve made across all fronts, but we are especially proud of the positive effect we’ve had in our own back yard.”

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